It's been a couple years since I've done a ski marathon. In fact, the last 50km race I did was the Rangeley Lakes Loppet in 2011. Now that we've had a real winter, I can't let the season pass without participating in one of these sufferfests on snow. I ski only twice a week or so, but most workouts were of pretty high quality. My form continues to improve gauged on performance at Weston.
I've been taking very few rest days this winter. When I ran, I usually ran hard. When I biked, I did intervals midweek or went long on a weekend ride. When I skied, I skied at hurl threshold at Weston or until bodily breakdown at Waterville. No rest. This was catching up to me in ways I have not experienced until now. I was getting overuse pain in many joints. Most notable was severe pain behind kneecaps when going down stairs first thing in morning. Runners, cyclists and skiers often get this. Rest is needed to prevent this from becoming a more serious injury. This past week I made my best attempt at some recovery. I ran only 5k on Monday and Wednesday at a fairly pedestrian pace. Tuesday was just too nice to not go out for longer ride, so I went out for over 30 miles at lunch and hit the infamous Chestnut Hill pretty hard. Oops. Thursday and Friday were real rest days. I haven't taken back-to-back complete rest days since when... when I broke my ankle in 2010? To make matters worse, work is stressful right now with a lot of extra hours. Some nights I get only 5hrs sleep. I need closer to 8hrs. Training hard, no rest days, lack of sleep weeks at a time take a toll after a while. So backing down even a little made a pretty dramatic improvement in how I felt by Saturday.
I rarely sleep well for these things. I desperately needed a good nights sleep, having slept less than 5hrs the night before. My ski partner Brett is a pretty solid snorer, so I know to bring my sleep noise machine along. Unfortunately, my idea of how much noise was needed for me to suppress his noise was incompatible with his ability to sleep. My new machine has all sorts of sounds, like waterfalls, rain, wind, waves, even cities and trains. Go figure. I think the setting that worked best for Brett was wind. It had lower frequency content and I didn't have to turn it up as loud to mask him. I actually slept pretty well.
Nice view from our sleeping digs at the Rangeley Inn.
Forecasts for Saturday were all over the place. Lows from 20-28F, highs from 32-39F, none to 2" of snow, maybe mixed precip, etc. I went with the Toko wax recommendation, which erred on the cold side with Toko HF red. I don't have Toko Jetstream pure fuoro, so I used Star F1 fuoro top coat, something suitable up to 32F (pure fluorocarbon wax is more durable and has lower friction on wet snow, but is extremely expensive). I rilled with the Toko red structure tool (rilling puts microscopic groves in your skis to channel water away so it doesn't slow you down as much). When we saw the temp only got down to 27F overnight, I thought I was screwed, as the wax I used is for much colder snow and it was only going to get warmer.
More snow than what they know what to do with at the venue.
At the venue, Brett and I were amazed at how much snow was there. I'd say about 3ft of snow on the ground. The NOHRSC website backs this up, showing the venue solidly in the 30-40" depth range. I warmed up on my rock skis, which I did not wax. Just 3km to check out the conditions and get a little blood flowing. The course was meticulously groomed and quite firm, despite getting a lot of snow this week. Speed felt a little sluggish. Then I put on my race skis just before lining up. Yeah, that was more like it! Not blazing fast like in 2010, but I'll take it. This race was not going to be a slog.
Brett was carrying on before the race about how it was going to suck. I'm used to this before ski races, bike races or hard training rides. Now Brett is a good friend of mine, but I have to dole out a little harassment on this topic, especially since he always kicks my ass at this distance.
- I'm still tired from the Birkie (possible)
- The snow is soft, it's going to be really slow
- My skis feel really slow
- I feel a little sick
- I might switch to the 25k instead
Ok, the race. I lined up third row, Brett in second a lane or two over. We must have been at least 15 across. They started all 25k and 50k skaters at once, at least 150 skiers I'd say. Yee-haw! Just meters after you can start skating out of the stadium area, the course goes downhill and necks down to 10ft wide. I bet 100 of those skiers wanted the hole-shot. Gun goes off, I double-pole decently, then things go wild. It turned into a major phuster cluck going into the woods. Somebody yelled out "get ready to play roller-derby!" I didn't see anybody go down, but if somebody when down up front, a hundred skiers would have piled up.
Less than 1km later, we come to a narrow bridge with abrupt upward transition on other side. The pace came to a stop. I'm convinced after doing these things for a number of years now that college girls are the most aggressive and physical. There was clearly nowhere to go, no way to get through, yet several girls played bumper cars well into the middle of the pack of congestion. I had no less then three girls ski up on my skis, fore and aft. It took a good while for everybody to get untangled. WTF girls, there's no need for that. Brett always tells me I sell myself short by starting a little further back than he does, and this was a case in point.
It took another 5km for things to start thinning out. I was going pretty hard, but I got swarmed at the start and then passed by more at that bridge, so I had a lot of slow traffic in front of me on the first climbs. Brett was going bye-bye, and there was nothing I could do about it until I got through traffic.
I carried one large water bottle with strong Gatorade in it and two Gu's stapled to my water belt. At the second feed zone, I decide to go for a Gu. Dang if I didn't drop the stupid thing. There was no food on the course, only HEED sport drink. Hmmm, 50k on a Gu and one water bottle? I've been training with less food and water intake, so this was going to put that to an extreme test.
On the long climb half way through the first lap, I could see Brett and the gang I typically hang with at Weston, just two minutes up. That was the damage done due to a botched start. Could I recover that in the next 35km or so?
Coming through the start-finish, I was pleased to see about 1:23 for my first 25km. Barring cramping, crashing or breaking equipment (sometimes all three happen to me at the same time), a sub-3hr marathon was virtually assured. Even though the course would get chewed up and be slower on the second lap, I thought a PR marathon was possible. That became my goal. Forget Brett. If I skied my race, I would do well.
I skied by myself almost the entire second 25km. I passed three other masters skiers early in the lap. At about the 30km mark, a shot was fired across the cramping bow. Uh-oh. It wasn't a full-on spasm, but those twinges I get 10-15 minutes before full spasms set in. They usually start in inner thigh or hip flexors and take over my legs. Then it dawned on me. Since my last marathon two years ago, I've greatly upped core work, namely push-ups and sit ups. I needed to focus on using more of my upper body to propel myself and save the legs. I still ski like such a cyclist. Even if I totally destroyed my upper body, I could still finish the race. The reverse is not as true. I committed to V2ing on grades I would normally V1. This made my triceps burn.
I told myself if I could summit the high point of the course with about 10k to go without cramping, I would really crank it up for the last 10k. Apparently my focus on upper body helped. I did not cramp. I even caught a glimpse of Brett still a couple minutes up on the long, straight climb. I might have even been gaining on him. This gave me a second wind. I was flying for the last 10k.
I crossed the line in 2:49, just two minutes back from Brett. My second 25k lap took 1:26, only three minutes slower than my first, and my second lap was a couple minutes faster than Brett's second lap. We both had our fastest 50k finishes ever and were pretty psyched. I'll link to the results here when they are posted. Had I not botched the start, the race would probably have been very different for both of us. I think I would have ended up on the ugly end of that outcome. Regardless, this was my best marathon race to date. I just may have to do the Sugarloaf Marathon in two weeks. That is the last weekend before a North Carolina cycling trip, which is sure to kill me. We plan to do the Georgia 6-gaps ride on that trip. At least Brett is in the same under-trained boat I'm am. A third rider joining us has been pouring on the miles lately.
We really lucked out with the weather. Freezing point is tricky to wax for, even for skaters. It snowed a negligible amount during the race and very little over night. We hit some light rain on the drive back. The skis Chris Li hand picked for me are awesome. I gave him the unbroken Atomic World Cup ski from the pair I really liked, and he matched it up to a new pair of Solomon's. They felt perfect on that course. The wax was spot-on too, I think. My skis were at least as fast as everybody else's. It's going to be hard to let this ski season end.